THE CHEMONG PORTAGE
As told by Doug Williams to Julie Kapyrka
What we know today as the ‘Chemong Portage’, is the portage from the south end of Chemong Lake all the way to Peterborough. It was created to cut off the long arduous trip from the top end of Buckhorn Lake, to Lower Buckhorn Lake, to Lovesick Lake, to Stoney Lake, and then down south full of rapids. It was time consuming. So the Chemong Portage cut off quite a bit of time.
Now, according to the stories I know, the Chemong Portage has been around a long, long time. It had a major role to play in early times when our people lived in this area, as far back as glaciation. The area here was prime hunting grounds for us. There were quite a number of animals, that don't exist today, that we depended on. I am thinking now of ATIK (Woodland Caribou) who existed around the area. In fact, that was/is one of our main clans in our clan system that defines the way we relate to each other in terms of governance.
So this portage, even up to this day, has had a lot of influence because over time the Chemong Portage has become the heavily used Chemong Road. It originally left Peterborough, at the base of the rapids which we called NOGOJIWANONG. We figure that to be around the King Street area. And the reason for this is Jackson Creek would have come out just south of that, so you had to portage just north of Jackson Creek so you wouldn’t have to cross it to get to Chemong Lake. So somewhere in there that’s where you got off to get on the portage – for practical reasons.
Then you started out. And remember, in portages, you try and go as straight as you can. The problem with the Chemong Portage is you have to cross the Parkhill drumlin – ISHPADINAA (the high hill) – and yet our people did. I doubt they would have crossed it right over the top. My guess would be that they crossed to the west of it, around the hill, between Jackson Creek and the hill, and then continued on straight to Chemong Road.
Then you would end up at Chemong Lake which is about 8 to 10 kilometres away.
My own forebears used that portage. My great grandfather, five generations away, married a woman from Rice Lake, so he had to use that portage regularly in order to maintain his relationship with her.
I am curious at times, so I tried to see where the portage exactly ran. One of the ways to do this is to look for ‘directional trees’ – where the old people would break a small sapling that would point the way. But some of these trees, even though they’re broken, continued to grow to become big trees. And I thought I would look around Chemong Road to see if there were any of those trees left. Low and behold I found one, by a fence line beside the road about half way between the lake and Peterborough.
One can also find other signs – modern society build their roads on these portages because they are well used and well packed. They became good wagon trails and then wagon trails developed into gravel roads and gravel roads developed into paved roads.
Some of the longest, straightest roads in the world, like Yonge Street, are on top of ancient trails once used by my ancestors…but that is another story.